I have never considered myself a fan of true crime. I have not read true crime books. I have not watched true crime documentaries. I have not even watched police procedurals or criminal investigation tv shows (unless it’s a One Chicago crossover event with Chicago P.D because Chicago Fire is my jam, and you have to watch the crossover episodes to know the whole story, right?). It has never been my thing. Until I heard about The Forest City Killer by Vanessa Brown.
The Forest City Killer. That’s an interesting title, would you agree? If you don’t think so yet, what about if you live in a city referred to as the Forest City. Now, are you intrigued? Because low and behold The Forest City Killer is about MY CITY, London, Ontario, Canada. The closest big city to the rural country home that I grew up in, and the current city that I live and work in. So, now my attention is peaked and I’m hooked.
The Forest City Killer is about a series of gruesome murders that took place starting in the 1960s. There was a serial killer prowling the area, or a group of serial killers. There has never been a solid conviction. In this book, Vanessa Brown, a resident of London, Ontario herself and co-owner of Brown & Dickinson bookstore with her husband Jason, combs through the files of Detective Alsop and reopens the cases of the many murders that took place, revealing witness statements, details of evidence, and some shocking revelations. Are these murders all related? Is the Forest City Killer still alive? Vanessa Brown presents extremely convincing arguments that tell you that is the case.
After hearing about this book, I immediately wanted to read it even though it doesn’t fall in the typical realm of books I read. I just had to know more. I wanted to know about Jackie English. She was perhaps the most covered disappearance and murder by the police and the 50th anniversary of her death was the release date for this book (Oct 4th, 2019).
I felt a bit in the dark knowing that I have spent about 30 years living in this area and the first time I heard that name was when I picked up this book. How does that happen? Is that intentional? Did my parents even know about it?
I have yet to ask my Dad. I am not sure if that is the best holiday dinner conversation so I didn’t bring it up at Thanksgiving – ha! So if my parents didn’t know about it, what does that tell you? The fact that I didn’t even know that London Ontario was once referred to as the Murder Capital makes me feel like I’ve been living in denial, or in a shadow. Are the deaths and times so horrifying and unappealing that past generations have displaced it in their memories and haven’t shared it with those born after? Maybe so, and if that is the truth, then I can certainly understand it. But that doesn’t mean I agree with it.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I have never felt my attention captured in such a way before. It’s similar to the experience I get when I read a psychological thriller (which is also a newer genre for me, as I just started reading those sporadically over the past couple of years). But what is worse (or better?) is that you know the cases and the stories in The Forest City Killer are real. Jackie English was really murdered and her body was really found near Otterville, ON (which is another connection I felt because I worked at the Otterville Library for a year as the Supervisor). Jacqueline Dunleavy was really assaulted and murdered after a shift at Stanley Variety and her body was found near the Child & Parent Resource Institute (CPRI) on Sanatorium Road (where I actually volunteered for a few months in their Special Library). Plus, this place is just down the street from the library I currently work at. There is a lot of talk about Old South and Wortley Village, as well as the East End. All areas that are a part of my everyday life. I think that is why this book was such an interesting read because it told me stories about neighbourhoods that I have walked or driven through, even if the events happened 50 years ago.
I want to add that Vanessa Brown’s writing is superb! I feel that she is a master at the art of narrative nonfiction. She presents the information in a very readable and intriguing way that certainly captivated my attention from start to finish. She is also an excellent public speaker and conversationalist. I was pleased to be able to attend the Book Release for The Forest City Killer at the London Public Library’s Central Branch on Sat, October 5th, 2019. I hadn’t read the book at this point but I had purchased my copy a few days prior (which I now have signed!). But that didn’t matter. Vanessa was so engaging in her presentation. She was funny and also knowledgeable and relatable. She is just a researcher and writer who wants answers, as much as the families of those who were murdered do. She seemed so down to earth. So, add in the element that I had met the author of The Forest City Killer, along with the fact that this book takes place in my home city, and I predicted that this book would be a hit for me before I even opened the first page (which is why I was so convinced to purchase it too).
But the question that now remains is whether this book was a one-hit love for me in the realm of true crime, or whether this is a genre that actually will continue to interest and intrigue me? I have plans to find out. Here are a few books in the true-crime genre (and crime fiction genre) that I have now added to my TBR.
- The Godmother by Hannelore Cayre (crime fiction)
- JonBenet: Inside the Ramsey Murder Investigation by Steve Thomas
- Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered: The Definitive How-to Guide by Karen Kilgariff
- Murder City: The Untold Story of Canada’s Serial Killer Capital, 1959-1984 by Michael Arntfield (who is actually cited quite often in The Forest City Killer as Vanessa Brown’s research complemented that of Arntfield’s.
- Columbine by Dave Cullen (which has actually been on my TBR forever but I haven’t dived in yet)
Stay tuned for updates!
Are you a true crime fan? Do you live and breath murderer documentaries and untold stories? Or are you like me, and haven’t really been that interested before?